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Get Your Program for 2000!
By Ken Rudin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, December 24, 1999
Question: What is the presidential primary and caucus schedule for 2000? Matt Winslow, Austin, Tex.
Answer: For the longest time this was all in flux, as Iowa, New Hampshire and Louisiana were playing leap frog. Now, with the cancellation of the January 15 Louisiana GOP caucus, this list is thought to be final; any subsequent changes or updates will be announced in future columns.
Question: Which primary and caucus states allow independents to vote in either major parties' primaries (as New Hampshire does)? Elmore Lockley, Yorktown, Va.
Answer: Independents are a key voting bloc in New Hampshire; they comprise 37 percent of the electorate and can vote in either primary. That's why Republican John McCain and Democratic Bill Bradley are wooing them so aggressively. On the outs with the regular party hierarchy, their hope is to get a sizable independent vote. In Maryland, independents may vote in the GOP primary but not in the Democratic primary. In Utah, independents may vote in either. In addition, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and Wisconsin hold events in which any registered voter may vote in any primary.
Note: In some states, party rules require that when independent or "non-affiliated" voters ask for a Democratic or Republican ballot, they have to declare their party preference.
Question: I can't understand why New Hampshire is so important. If George W. Bush has such a large lead in the national polls, why should I care that he is behind in New Hampshire? Marlene Gitterle, Chicago, Ill.
Answer: One reason is that our political establishment -- journalists, party leaders, activists, etc. -- has a romanticized view of the state. Its tradition of being the "first in the nation" presidential preference primary began in 1952, and in every cycle since, candidates (with media in tow) have flocked to New Hampshire. But by being first, it often attracts the attention of a public that until then had not been focusing on the campaign. That's why the New Hampshire winners invariably find themselves on the front pages of every newspaper in the country the following day.
Theoretically, it's a place where candidates can practice the art of door-to-door, "retail" campaigning, running in a state where it doesn't cost millions and millions of dollars to be competitive. But its reputation of picking winners has been hurt in recent years, and when Bill Clinton won the presidency in 1992 he became the first to do so after having lost the New Hampshire primary. And when Bob Dole lost the primary in 1996 and yet went on to win the GOP nomination, he was the first Republican to do so since Barry Goldwater in 1964.
Actually, it is South Carolina, which holds its event early, that is more and more becoming the key state in the primary calendar, at least on the Republican side. Since Ronald Reagan won there in 1980, GOP front-runners have relied on their South Carolina showing to bounce back from any mishap they may have encountered in Iowa or New Hampshire.
Here's a look at the three states' primary/caucus results since 1952 (where applicable and excluding 1956 and 1984 when GOP incumbents essentially ran unopposed) and the ultimate Republican nominee:
On the Democratic side, the results of Iowa and/or New Hampshire are even less reliable in determining who the nominee will be (excluding 1964 and 1996, when Democratic incumbents essentially ran unopposed):
Question: Do you feel there is too much emphasis being placed upon the New Hampshire primary? Even if McCain wins New Hampshire, he will have exhausted almost all his campaign funds. Then there may be nothing left because he will be quashed in the other states by Bush. New Hampshire may provide some momentum but let's all remember Paul Tsongas. Kevin Powers, Memphis, Tenn.
Answer: You have expressed the hope of the Bush camp and the fear of the McCain camp. In the old days, one could use a victory in New Hampshire as a springboard to bigger and better things, in addition to having enough time to raise money for contests down the road. But that was when the primary dates were further spaced apart. Now they are more compressed, making it more difficult to capitalize on any momentum. In 1992, Paul Tsongas learned that a win in New Hampshire is great, but it meant nothing if he had no organization in place or money in the bank for subsequent contests. He was out of the race a month later.
For McCain, the road for 2000 is even more treacherous, as the calendar is more front-loaded than ever. His fundraising has skyrocketed in recent weeks, and he is investing far more time and money than had been anticipated in South Carolina, with its large veteran population. But nearly the entire GOP establishment, from former governors Carroll Campbell and Mike Beasley on down, is working tirelessly for Bush in the state. In Michigan, which votes a few days after South Carolina, Gov. John Engler heads an all-star lineup on behalf of Bush. And in Virginia, which votes a week after that, Gov. Jim Gilmore has his organization already in place for Bush. The feeling is, if McCain doesn't win at least two of three early contests (New Hampshire, South Carolina and his home state of Arizona), it will be brutally tough, if not impossible, for him to wrest the nomination away from Bush.
POST SCRIPT: The mail regarding last week's column on media bias was overwhelming. Some of the comments were helpful and informative, some were mean and vitriolic. In this holiday season, in the spirit of good will to all mankind, I'm going to hold off until the next century -- in mid-January, to be precise -- to revisit the issue. This will be the last column of 1999. In the meantime, happy holidays and a safe New Year's to all!
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